On Friday, DESE released new nonbinding guidelines calling for educators in districts with remote learning in place to teach from empty classrooms, and to bring their own children into the classroom with them if they have childcare needs. In response, AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos released the following statement:
“These guidelines defy common sense, and if implemented, would put educators and our communities at risk unnecessarily. If a local community has determined that it is unsafe for students to return to their classrooms due to high levels of COVID-19 transmission, inadequate building ventilation, or other health and safety concerns, it is certainly not safe for educators – or their own children – to return to the same classrooms to teach.
“Many districts across the state are beginning school remotely and using that time to upgrade building ventilation systems, reconfigure classrooms, and make other health and safety improvements that are necessary for students to return to the classroom. Forcing educators into the classroom prematurely will lengthen the time it takes to complete this critical work, further postponing the day when it is safe to resume safe in-person learning – our ultimate goal.
“In many high-risk communities that are beginning school remotely, educators and staff travel from their homes in dozens of other communities, most with lower levels of COVID-19 transmission. Requiring educators to travel to a high-risk community, work in an unsafe building, and then return home every day is a recipe for further spread of the virus that will set us back and eliminate the progress we’ve made fighting the pandemic.
“Educators want to be working with their school teams to plan for a successful start to remote learning, not worrying about whether the air in their classroom is safe to breathe. DESE should revoke these guidelines, and instead focus on ensuring that districts have the resources and support they need to upgrade ventilation systems, provide rapid testing and contact tracing, and bring students back to the classroom safely.”